Way back in November, in the second regular-season game of the season, UConn faced top-5 Stanford ... and lost. The Huskies have won 21 games since and are the No. 2 team in the country. On Monday night, they'll face one of two remaining unbeaten teams in women's basketball: South Carolina, now ranked first in the country. (Princeton's the other unbeaten team.)
“It’s huge for us to come out with energy just because we’re going to be battling them for 40 minutes,” junior All American Breanna Stewart said on Sunday, via SNY.com. “It helps that we’re playing a home game in front of a sold-out crowd. We have to be prepared to take their punches. As long as we are always on the attack, they have to defend us.
“We have to punch them first and attack them first and send the message of, ‘This is how the game is going to go.’ It’s fun just because you know they are a team that’s not just going to lay down and die. It’s going to be a battle for 40 minutes, and that’s what you want. You come here to play these type of games. We are really looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, South Carolina coach Dawn Staley will rely on depth when they come go Gampel Pavilion.
“I think it’s one of our biggest strengths,” the coach said. “It’s not because we have one player. It’s because we have four players who are 6-foot-4 or taller on our roster. A lot of times most teams don’t have that. And they are all so different. They bring something totally different to the table, and you do have to spend a little bit of time prepping for us and prepping for the various ways that we play and the various skill sets that we do have.”
But Staley, taking a page out of the Auriemma playbook, makes it clear that one game doesn't make a season.
“This game won’t define us us at all,” Staley said. “It’s not the national championship game. It’s another game against a tremendously quality opponent on their home court.”
And Auriemma pretty much echoed those comments.
“The danger of (trying to keep the game in perspective) is why a lot of coaches don’t want to play these games,” he said. “They don’t want to play these games in February because they’re afraid of the aftermath. Me? I look forward to the aftermath. I am going to be a lot happier Tuesday morning that I am going to be Monday night.
“It might be a night you have to grind it out. They’re pretty physical and they are pretty tough and they are way bigger than we are. But come Tuesday morning, I think that’s what a coach’s job is. I think that is what coaching is. Coaching is making your players understand what the significance of every game is. We treat it exactly like that. That might be one of the reasons we have had a lot of success in these games. If we win, we have to remind our players we didn’t win anything, we just won a game on Monday night. They didn’t give us any trophies for it and we’re not having a parade after it. And if we lose, we have to remind our players the season isn’t over.”